PUTNAM COUNTY – The Upper Cumberland’s newest state natural area is ready for its grand debut. But Window Cliffs, located in southern Putnam County, is not for the faint of heart. Its panoramic vistas, limestone rock formations and waterfalls are protected and now accessible, yes, but expect a strenuous 5.4-mile roundtrip hike in order to view them.
A 275 acres, Window Cliffs pales in comparison to the UC’s last dedicated state natural area, White County’s Virgin Falls, which was formally marked in 2013, at more than 1,500 acres. But there’s few limestone arches like these in the state – the unusual geologic feature was formed from the oxbow of Cane Creek. Narrow cliffs have resulted from erosion, and natural bridges or “windows” appear within them, giving the Cliffs its name.
The area also includes a few small cascades, steep slopes and narrow ledges, and 20-foot waterfall along Cane Creek. The hiking trail includes 20 bridgeless stream crossings. Because of the stream crossings and sensitive nature of the area, pets are not allowed.
The state will officially christen the Cliffs, located within Burgess Falls State Park, at 10 a.m. Friday, April 7. The event includes a dedication and a pair of guided hikes inside.
“It’s a very fragile area,” Burgess Falls State Park Manager Bill Summers told the UCBJ in a previous interview. Summers will manage Window Cliffs in addition to Burgess Falls. “It (is) a rugged hike in, but it will add a different component; since Burgess is a pretty easy walk with lots of scenery. We are excited about it.”
Brock Hill, TDEC Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Conservation, officials with The Land Trust of Tennessee and Summers will be on hand April 7. Following the ceremonies, there will be a guided 5.4-mile roundtrip hike at 11 a.m. At noon, the area will open to the public with another guided hike as part of the 2017 State Natural Areas Spring Celebration Week.
Summers said Window Cliffs has been considered an area of interest for more than 40 years. But the Cliffs themselves were privately owned until the state acquired two tracts of land totaling 100 acres in 2014 for $575,000. A third tract, which now includes a trailhead and parking area, was purchased from another landowner.
Prior to the acquisitions, “people would enter it illegally en masse without permission,” Summers said. The state has since purchased all related parcels.
State natural areas tend to be less developed and better preserved than state parks, among other distinctions.
“It’s going to be a hiking area predominantly and to protect the resource, which is very unique,” Summers said.
Window Cliffs is located approximately 1.8 miles north/northwest from the entrance to Burgess Falls State Park. The address is 8400 Old Cane Creek Road, Baxter.